France enters new era

Sarkozy’s victory changes global politics

Reading Time: 3 minutes

The night Nicolas Sarkozy celebrated his presidentialvictory over Socialist Party candidate Segolene Royal atFouquet’s on the Champs Elysee, some 6,000 kilometers away,President George W. Bush must have also been celebrating –albeit in a somewhat more modest manner.

There is good reason to believe the American president musthave been relieved that Sarkozy, who has made no qualmsabout his pro-American sympathies, will be the next tenantat the Elysee Palace. He is an admirer of the Americaneconomic model and wants to inject some similitude of the UScapitalist system into the French business world. Indeed inhis book, Testimony, timed to coincide with his victory, thenew French president states: “I have no intention toapologize for feeling an affinity with the greatestdemocracy in the world.”

Sarkozy reminds the reader of his love for, “the valueAmericans place on work and the desire for excellence youfind everywhere, from CEOs to the most modest workers.” Hegoes on to say that, unlike the French, “who would have youbelieve that work is a sort of punishment from which peopleshould try to escape,” Americans “understand that work welldone is liberating.”

The new French president in fact wasted no time sending amessage to his American counterpart, telling him that the UScould henceforth count on France in times of need. Quite achange from the icy relations President Chirac entertainedwith the Bush White House.

Indeed, Sarkozy may turn out to be Washington’s best friendin Europe, now that Blair is leaving No. 10 Downing Streetin late June and will be replaced by his Chancellor of theExchequer, Gordon Brown. Brown is a very differentpolitician than Blair, and chances are the no-nonsense Scottwill distance himself ever so slightly from Bush and hispolicies, particularly over Iraq.

The irony today is that the two countries accused by formerUS Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld of belonging to anoutmoded “old Europe” – France under Chirac and Germanyunder Helmut Kohl – are now set to become Washington’s bestfriends with Sarkozy in Paris and Chancellor Angela Merkelin Berlin.

However, he also said that friends also have the right todisagree and that does not make them any less of a friend.One of the first points “Sarko,” as the new French presidentis often referred to in the French media, brought up was theKyoto Treaty that is meant to regulate global warming andwhich was signed by most countries, except the US. Sarkozysaid in his victory speech that addressing the Kyoto accordswould be his first challenge.

The environment is not the only point of contention thatwill surface between Washington and Paris during Bush’sremaining 600-plus days in the White House. There will bestrong disagreements over Turkey, for example. Sarkozy is astrong opponent of Ankara’s entry into the EU and will, inall likelihood, move to prevent Turkey’s accession to theBrussels club. Already in his victory speech last month,Sarkozy spoke of creating a “Mediterranean Union” based onthe EU model. Bush, on the other hand strongly supportsTurkey joining the EU because he sees Turkey playing amoderating role in the Middle East. Bush sees Turkey, aMuslim country though one that thanks to its strictseparation of mosque and state – so far – has managed toremain moderate in its approach to religion. Sarkozy justsees 80 million Muslims.

Elsewhere, the two will certainly disagree over the war inIraq but should cooperate closely over Afghanistan, whereFrench troops have been fighting the Taliban from the verystart. Ditto Syria and Lebanon. One of Sarkozy’s very firstmeetings on foreign policy after winning the election was tomeet with Saad Hariri, Lebanese parliamentarian and son ofassassinated former Prime Minister Rafik Hariri.

Finally, Sarkozy is likely to be as opposed as Bush is toIran becoming a nuclear power. So if their will bedisagreement over Kyoto and Iraq, there remains plenty ofroom for cooperation in other areas. It is safe to say thata new era, one of rapprochement between Paris and Washingtonhas begun.

Claude Salhani is international editor and a senior political analyst with United Press International in Washington, DC.